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«A Dissertation Presented to the Faculty of the Graduate School of Cornell University in Partial Fufillment of the Requirements for the Degree of ...»

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EPHEMERAL SPACES, UNDYING DREAMS: SOCIAL JUSTICE STRUGGLES IN

CONTEMPORARY PUERTO RICO

A Dissertation

Presented to the Faculty of the Graduate School

of Cornell University

in Partial Fufillment of the Requirements for the Degree of

Doctor of Philosophy

By

Melissa Lynn Rosario

August 2013

© 2013 Melissa Lynn Rosario

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

EPHEMERAL SPACES, UNDYING DREAMS: SOCIAL JUSTICE STRUGGLES IN

CONTEMPORARY PUERTO RICO

Melissa Lynn Rosario, Ph.D.

Cornell University, 2013 The premise of this dissertation is that ephemeral spaces serve as practice ground for enacting fleeting moments of autonomy. My narrative centers the ephemeral nature of political possibility, doing so in a way that attempts to preserve the undecidable directionality of these moments. Focusing on occupation as a tactic of resistance, I discuss two contemporary manifestations I witnessed while in Puerto Rico from 2009-2011: the 62 day system wide student strike organized in 2010 at the University of Puerto Rico and El Campamento Playas Pa’l Pueblo, a squat founded in 2005 to prevent the privatization of a parcel of public coastal land. I call these spaces liberation experiments to underscore my interest in understanding them as part of the project to achieve self-determination for Puerto Ricans.

Although there is some debate as to whether Puerto Rico is a colony in the strict sense of the word, since it was “decolonized” when it became a commonwealth of the United States, it still remains the case that such a relationship of over a century of partial integration to the United States has perverted the political terrain. By linking these queries into the micropolitics of resistance spaces to Puerto Rico’s nonsovereign political terrain, I argue that these ephemeral space/times have political implications that go beyond efforts to shift modes of organizing to prefigurative action emergent across the globe. My project is to reclaim the term revolution in Puerto Rican Studies as a terrain that lies outside the traditional trajectory of nation-state formation and status debate and am keen to show how efforts to build ephemeral spaces of resistance assist participants in experimenting partial breaks, ruptures and gaps from what Nelson Maldonado Torres calls, “coloniality of being.” This work builds upon the anthropology of social movements where scholars have done much to emphasize the mundane aspects of organizing, focusing on the affects and ambivalences produced by resistance work. In each chapter, I attend to the way political possibility is experienced and effaced in the intimate moments of struggle.

However, my claim to the importance of the ephemeral in our theorizations of social movements is drawn from Caribbeanist, feminist and queer genealogies that posit alternative conceptualizations of temporality and aim to deconstruct transcendental models of History.

By writing experimentally, prioritizing the storytelling and affective domain of living a moment of revolutionary possibility, I amplify the poetics of resistance space. I am not interested in making temporary encampments “more familiar” to the reader but rather in transferring some of that affect to readers through writing. In emphasizing the “poetics,” I underscore that I am invested in producing a text that evokes memories, embodied realizations of my experience in the field—a place that is also my ancestral home(land). In attending to the poetics of ephemeral spaces of resistance, I aim to subvert what J.K. Gibson-Graham identify as “left melancholia” evidenced by our tendency to critique to the point of paralysis, instead stimulating our knowledge of the

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Melissa Rosario is a New York raised Puerto Rican who has dedicated her academic studies to deepen knowledge of the “Puerto Rican experience” a multifarious and complex situation, rich in ambivalences and negotiations. This commitment began officially with her undergraduate honors thesis, “Making Dis/connections to the Homeland from the Outside-In,” completed at Wesleyan University in Anthropology.

In it, she focused on how Puerto Rican youth imagine liberation for Puerto Rico and how they articulate that vision through their identity. While supported by a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship she designed a survey, and conducted participant observation with Puerto Ricans in New York and San Juan. Although her work showed Puerto Rican youth understood the nation to be a deterritorial space, they tended to reaffirm the borders between home and diaspora in daily interactions. Thus, she argued that both Puerto Ricans on the island and in the diaspora affirmed a hierarchy of authenticity as each group continually defined true essence of identity and culture as rooted in the island itself. She began experimenting with narrative forms in this first project given the way that her identity was bound up in the very research question itself.

In her graduate work, undertaken at Cornell University, Melissa was trained in multiple areas of inquiry, taking classes that reflect her multiple interests in queer theory, memory, environment, time/space, philosophy and feminism. Deeply committed to social justice projects, she wanted to understand how changing global attitudes toward the logic of traditional state-based politics were shifting traditional protest strategies. Landing in Puerto Rico in the midst of mass protests to austerity

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breaks from the tyranny of oppressive conditions folks faced.

Although her dissertation grapples with the politics of representation in social movements, Melissa has become increasingly interested in developing research which foments, and not just narrates social justice struggles. In her long-term plans, she hopes to build a gathering space for activists situated in different projects and places to meet and share strategies and build lasting coalitions.

In 2012, Dr. Rosario began working on a collaborative research project with members of Cornell’s Participatory Action Research Network in order to investigate the barriers to graduate student public engagement, a project which includes discourse analysis of University’s statements on engagement and interviews with extension staff, administrators and graduate students on their own experiences with engaged research.

In the summer, the team will be participating in a seminar on Action Research in the United Kingdom where they will be joined by other scholars from around the globe also conducting research on their institutions. The seminar will be an opportunity to share preliminary findings on each respective project and infer broader trends. This project on ethics of research and engagement will make Melissa quite effective for delivering social justice initiatives on campus and off in later years.

Dr. Rosario will be going to Bowdoin College in the fall of 2013 for a postdoctoral fellowship awarded to her through the Consortium for Faculty Diversity.

She can be reached at Melissa.rosario@gmail.com.

–  –  –

Many people helped me complete this dissertation. The most important source of sustenance has been the immense love of my family members, who have such a faith in my ability that no amount of graduate school insecurity could have kept me from making it to this point. As the first to ever complete a Ph.D. in the Rosario clan, I have been aware at every step that this project is about much more than me and I hope that they find the ideas compelling and the writing accessible.

To my two writing groups: the Anthro + 1 team—Aftab, Chika, Courtney, Gökçe, Saiba—and Spaces of Permeability crew—Ella, Omar, Mary Pat, Sofia, Vero— thank you for holding me accountable to producing when others did not and for engaging so deeply with my work regardless of whether what I shared was something closer to stream of consciousness or an almost complete chapter. It is a rare treat to have experienced something so positive in what can be a long and frustrating process.

From you all, I have learned to be a better reader and the truth of the notion that all ideas are dialogical.

Special thanks to Charis Boke, my teacher and friend, who understood my activist spirit and helped me to cultivate her so I could present her in all her bravery and deep compassion to the world. You encouraged me to trust that intuitive grit while strategizing ways to make it pass academic muster. Thank you for reading my work with equal parts anthropology, creative writing and activist longing.

Mar, thank you for creating a safe space for me this year to produce this dissertation and for helping me to remember that what I am doing matters. My

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you and watching my jumbled thoughts become freestyled eloquence.

To my dissertation committee—Vilma, Andrew and Hiro—thank you for giving me free reign to explore the ideas and forms that excite(d) me and for pushing me to think of a broad audience of interlocutors. Hiro, thank you for introducing me to the area of temporality and for always demanding the best of me. Andrew, I appreciate sincerely your writing advice, your careful reading and engagement and for your ability to put my work in conversation with an expansive set of literatures. Vilma, thank you for your candor and for supporting my work from the very beginning. As a chair, I never doubted that you had my back and in this (academic) world of insincerity and unclear intentions, I am grateful for you.

Michael Ralph: impeccably sharp thinker, always there in a bind. Your feedback and friendship is always right on time.

Maurice Stevens, thank you for being an exemplary mentor and friend to me in my darkest and brightest times. I consider you to be the best example of what a mentor should be. I look forward to our skype conversations and could not imagine making it through graduate school without you. The spirit of this text attempts to reflect the intersection of hands, heart and head where you live.

I thank the Mellon Mays Foundation for its generosity throughout my career, first as an undergraduate fellow and then through the years as a Ph.D. student. Beyond the monetary support they have given, under the auspices of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation and the Social Science Research Council, I have come to know so many good people in this network that it is impossible to name you all, but I trust that you

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that others did not and Margo and Maria helped me to develop as a mentor that could recognize the brightness in others. Thank you.

Special thanks to Mary Anne Grady Flores who first introduced me to Tito Kayak and whose kindness and wisdom of the terrain of resistance in Puerto Rico (and the world) is inspiring. She helped me to find unexpected paths to spirituality and radicality by being the beacon of light that she is.

Last but not least, I thank all those beautiful luchadorxs que conocí en Puerto Rico. Los bois del campa, los amo. Siempre seré la vecina aunque me encuentro en el otro lado del charco (por ahora). Hay tantos estudiantes huelguistas que me apoyaron con el hecho simple de llevar a cabo su lucha. Algunos son mencionados por nombre en este texto, pero no todxs. Sin ustedes no habría nada que escribir.

Gracias profundas a las mujeres Xiomara, Zchizchi, Marimer que siempre me ayudaron a fortalecer las ideas que tenía. Su fuerza e inteligencia me inspiran a seguir evolucionando. Rosaly, ojala que nos hubiéramos conocido antes. Pero me llena de alegría pensar en las conversaciones que tuvimos en tu casita. Quiero que sepas que esa visita en marzo me llenó de energía para terminar la tesis por fin.

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BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH…………………………………………………………III DEDICATION…….…………….……………………………………………….…....V ACKNOWLEDGMENTS……………………………………………….……………VI TABLE OF CONTENTS………………………………………………………...……IX LIST OF FIGURES

PREFACE: THE WRITER’S INTENTION

PROLOGUE: ENTERING A MAELSTROM

INTRODUCTION: A NONLINEAR LIFE OF RESISTANCE

DEAD TIME IS GOOD FOR DELINKING: OCCUPATION RHYTHMS..............53 THE INTERCONNECTED FUTURES OF THE GARDEN

THE LIMITS OF EPHEMERAL SPACE: LA CONVIVENCIA.................………113 ARTIVISM: UNBOUNDED STRATEGIES OF CONSCIOUSNESS RAISING....165

CONCLUSION: ON INTENTIONAL SPACES AND THE POLITICS OF

AUTONOMY …………………………………………………………………..…...216 EPILOGUE: INCALCULABLE JUSTICE…………………………………………216 APPENDIX A: BRIEF HISTORY AND PARTIAL CHRONOLOGY

APPENDIX B: CARTA AL PAÍS (letter to the Country)

APPENDIX C: SMARTACTION CATALOGUE

REFERENCES

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FIGURE 1: Huerto Huelga Map……………………………………..………..……....98 FIGURE 2: El Estudiante militante, Papel Machete………………...…………….....178 FIGURE 3: Flipped Desks Ocup(arte)………………………………………….……...…182 FIGURE 4: No caigas en el pescau, installation……………………………..............183 FIGURE 5: Mimes speak………………………………………………………..…...184 FIGURE 6: An Aggressive Offering…………………………………………...…….190 FIGURE 7: Rebollo talks to Officers…………………………………………...........191 FIGURE 8: Flowers vs. Boots……………………………………………….……….192 FIGURE 9: Waiting for the Death……………………………………………….……195 FIGURE 10: Skeleton on the Move………………………………………….…...….196 FIGURE 11: En luto…………………

FIGURE 12: El dolor que la muerte se llevó, Y. Rivera Rodríguez…………..….….201 FIGURE 13: Vencimos……………………………..………………………….….….226

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